Setting Goals

I’ve just made a pact with three other members of my critique group to set writing goals every week. We’re all either starting novels or are partway through first drafts. I’m just starting a new novel. It’s actually going to be the first of a trilogy. I never thought I’d write a trilogy but I have so much story this time I can’t do it any other way. I’ve made a lot of notes for all three books and  have outlined all the major plot points, but now I need to go back and flesh out the in between scenes for the first novel. I started writing the first chapter because the dialogue was so strong in my mind that I had to get it down. Next week I want to go over my notes and make sure I’ve stacked my scenes the best way and that there is a strong progression in the story with an escalation of tension. I also feel like I’m missing some scenes in the beginning so I need to pay attention to my instinct and think about that. It’s good to take time to just think about your story. Usually writer’s block happens because you haven’t thought about your story enough. Or at least that’s the case if you’re an outliner. If you’re a pantser, then you’re writing by the seat of your pants and planning isn’t necessarily part of your process. I need to know where I’m going before I write a scene. Next week my goal will include more thinking time and less writing time. Once I’ve worked everything out in...

Sacrifice

I had an interesting talk with a writing buddy about whether or not a main character must always make a sacrifice in order for it to be a satisfying story. We finally decided that it depended on the type of story. For simple stories like early chapter books and some picture books it’s not necessary. In those sometimes the character just learns something or experiences something—like the first day of school. There’s not a lot of character growth in those kind of stories. This is also true of series mystery characters. There isn’t a lot of character growth in a continuing character. The detective or amateur sleuth figures out the mystery and catches the bad guy, but doesn’t change a lot from book to book. They often don’t even age. They are stuck in a time warp. For me I see characters changing the most in middle grade and young adult novels. In order for the characters to grow they have to make choices and learn from those choices. And in the climax they are going to have to make a sacrifice. They have to give up something they want or have  in order to achieve the better good. That sacrifice forces them to change, to grow, to mature so they aren’t the same person they were at the beginning of the story. If they don’t have to make a sacrifice then the change doesn’t feel real. They haven’t earned it. And once they’ve made the sacrifice, they can’t get back what they gave up. Janie gives up her place in the cool kids’ clique in order to help...

The Next Big Thing

Snake Talker Today I’m hosting the Next Big Thing blog campaign. The Next Big Thing is an international campaign that began in Australia. Authors and illustrators of books for kids and young adults talk about their recently published books and/or those that are due to be released. Each author who has been nominated turns around and nominates a couple of other authors. We all answer the same questions about our work. It’s really just a great big game of “Tag, you’re it.” Today is my turn to answer The Next Big Thing’s standard questions about my book, Snake Talker, and I’m tagging two of my favorite fellow kids’ book authors, Ann Koffsky and Sean McCollum, to go next. What is the working title of your next book? The one I’m currently working on is still in my head and not yet on paper so I’m going to talk about a book that is already out. Snake Talker came out over a year ago. Where did the idea come from for the book? I actually got two ideas for books at the same time. I decided to write this one first because I knew more about the story. I don’t remember exactly where the idea came from. Like so many story ideas they seem to be made up of bits and pieces of things that interest me. They merge in my subconscious and suddenly the idea is there. What genre does your book fall under? YA science fiction. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? You’ve got me on that one....

Premature Story Ejaculation Treatment

You’ve got a great idea for a story and you can’t wait to start writing. I’m here to caution you against spewing out your story too soon. You need to indulge in plenty of foreplay before you’re ready. Okay, enough sexual innuendo. The truth is that no matter how tempting it is to start your first draft, you need to wait until you’re ready. A story needs to mature before you start writing it. Or, at least for me it does. I’m an outliner. I can’t speak for pantsers—people who sit down and write without knowing where their story is going. I need to know. It helps me build layers of depth in the first draft. If you start writing too soon you will quickly run into a wall. You won’t know where to go next. Your characters will thrash around wasting a lot a time until you figure out the next move. When this happens you end up with passive characters—the story happens to them instead of the characters driving the story. When you take time to think about your story you’ll be able to see how the pieces fit together, how you can strengthen themes, add motivation, create nuances. You can add the subtleties up front that often don’t develop until a third or fourth draft. It saves time and you’ll have a stronger story to work with. But this blog is supposed to be about treatment, so the next time you have a great story idea I want you to open a new document and write down your ideas. And then walk away from it. Keep...

Bo’s Latest Trick

This is Bo’s latest trick for trying to get me to pay more attention to him than my laptop. Of course I was just reading Huffington Post at the time so I wasn’t exactly working on a deadline. He can usually entice me into a quick game of fetch. And when I’m too busy, he lets out a big sigh then curls up between my knees with his head draped over my right shin. It’s surprising how heavy a dog’s head can get. Still, it’s nice to have him curled up next to me while I’m working—like he is right now as I write this post. Plus there’s nothing like the comfort of  a warm dog on a cold...